On Tuesday, I questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie about the fall of Afghanistan, which occurred on their watch.
We learned from that hearing how President Biden heedlessly ignored the advice of his military advisers, cut and ran from Afghanistan, and left thousands of Americans and allies trapped behind Taliban lines.
Biden’s missteps also sowed the seeds of a domestic disaster by bringing thousands of virtually unvetted Afghans to communities across America.
For two decades, thousands of Afghans fought loyally alongside American troops as translators and soldiers. We owe these Afghans a great debt for their service and ought to do what we can to help them escape to safety from the Taliban. By and large, these are not the people that the Biden administration brought to the United States.
President Biden’s much-vaunted “airlift” evacuated fewer than half of approved Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders – Afghans who served alongside American troops. In fact, fewer than half of the 120,000 people that the United States evacuated from Afghanistan were American citizens, green-card holders or allies.
The Democrats, desperate to paper over the Biden administration’s failure, recently stuffed a budget bill authority to provide indefinite housing and welfare benefits to these evacuees, even if they never qualify for refugee status or an SIV. Insultingly, these benefits would last much longer than the eight months of benefits given to SIV holders who actually served alongside American forces.
I offered an amendment on Thursday to limit these benefits to just 18 months, a reasonable amount of time while we untangle the mess caused by the Biden administration. Sadly, every single Senate Democrat voted it down.
Setting aside the question of cost, there is still the more basic question of trust. There is no doubt that we can’t trust some of the people who made it on evacuation flights in the chaos, despite President Biden’s promise that we would rigorously vet every Afghan before letting them set foot on American soil.
Proper vetting takes months. Vetting during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan took place over hours, days or weeks; in some cases, it didn’t happen at all. This is an entirely inadequate and reckless way to screen people from a country with poor recordkeeping and a long history of extremism and terrorism.
There is a very real risk that terrorists and other criminals are hiding in the crowd. We know for a fact that dozens of Afghans “refugees” have been flagged as potential terrorist threats. Some made it onto U.S. soil before being discovered. It would be naïve to think that a slapdash vetting process was able to uncover all such threats.
Crime and extremism are not the only problems caused by Joe Biden’s Afghan importation crisis.
Just as concerning, several Afghans housed on military bases across the country have already been indicted for crimes, including crimes against children and against American service members.
At Fort Bliss in New Mexico, a “small group of male evacuees” assaulted a female service member. At Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, one man was charged with trying to rape minors on the base – allegedly on three separate occasions. Another man at the same base was indicted for strangling and suffocating his wife. There have also been numerous reports of adult male evacuees bringing child brides with them to the United States, apparently including young women who had no relationship with these older men until they came to the airport in Kabul for evacuation.
I questioned Secretary Austin about these crimes on Tuesday. He assured me that these bases “have what they need” to protect our troops and communities – which must be cold comfort to the victims who have already been attacked.
Crime and extremism are not the only problems caused by Joe Biden’s Afghan importation crisis. Epidemic disease is another.
Earlier this month, five Afghans who were processed through Dulles Airport in northern Virginia were diagnosed with measles, a highly infectious disease that hospitalizes one in four people who have it. The military halted flights of Afghans from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to the United States due to a larger measles outbreak.
Americans rightly sympathize with the plight of Afghans who are in danger due to Joe Biden’s retreat. It speaks to the character of our nation that the U.S. government and countless private individuals carried out a massive evacuation to help more than 100,000 Afghans escape the Taliban.
We owe a debt to those Afghans who fought alongside our military over the last two decades, and of course America has in place a robust system to aid vulnerable refugees, such as women and children fleeing persecution.
However, the Biden administration has mistaken recklessness for generosity by allowing thousands of seemingly random Afghans to be evacuated ahead of Americans and allies who were left behind.
The full consequences of Joe Biden’s defeat with dishonor in Afghanistan will continue long after American troops have left the country.
Republican Tom Cotton represents Arkansas in the United States Senate.